Sounding Off About Big Shows
The first big European high-end audio show since COVID-19 was a much needed boost for many of us. While the pursuit of good audio is hardly a team sport, the chance to sit in front of a truly diverse range of systems in a very short time gives one the chance to reboot. And attending such a show after a long break, there's a sentence that sounds horribly impolite but is remarkably useful:
"Does your system sound good to you?"
Now, granted it's incredibly difficult to say this without sounding at best rude and arrogant and in some cases this could end in expulsion from the room, or worse. But, if taken at face value and without offence, it's an interesting question and one that should be said at shows.
Why? Well, you might think the system sounds wonderful, but those who put the system together think otherwise. Or vice versa. If that is the case, asking about the system (if you get an honest answer) gives you a sense of how close your idea of ‘good' corresponds with others. Ask it a few times and you begin to get something close to consensus. You also begin to fine-tune your ability to spot ‘outliers'; systems where the manufacturer is genuinely making a sound that stands out from the norm, and in which case you can begin to see if that coheres with your own tastes, then enjoy what that company does and filter out the rest.
You will also find some companies making an absolute dog's breakfast of a sound and genuinely think it's wonderful. They aren't necessarily ‘wrong' just following a different path up the mountain. One to cross off the list!
However, in walking the halls of a big show, what you often here is a sonic convergence, albeit with a few outstandingly good and a few outstandingly bad rooms. And in most cases, we're remarkably consistent in finding and liking those good rooms, and disliking the bad ones. I'm willing to cut companies a lot of slack at a show because the environment is audio-hostile; a system with almost no bedding in time in an unknown room competing with dozens or hundreds of other systems playing the same power feed, with multiple sources of noise pollution, then filling a room with a steady flow of humans... it's the opposite of sitting in your listening space in quiet contemplation as the music flows over you. And that slack was cut deeper this year because we're all starting anew. Despite this, there are companies that always make a good sound, and that has to be more than just luck!
As we went to press, the magazine was saddened to learn of the passing of the Executive Editor and CEO of the AVShowrooms website, Peter Breuninger, who died in his sleep on June 14. Our thoughts are with Peter's friends, family and colleagues at this difficult time.